By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
How will Metro bus and Water Taxi service rise to the challenge of increased West Seattle need as people return to work without high-bridge access?
Some insight emerged toward the end of last night’s West Seattle Transportation Coalition meeting. A Metro manager spoke with WSTC after updates from SDOT and the Port of Seattle. (We’ll get to those later in our summary.)
METRO/WATER TAX: Steve Crosley, a West Seattle resident now in charge of “managing the West Seattle Bridge response,” made his first WSTC appearance. He began with the reminder that before COVID-19, Metro carried 19,000 passengers off and on the peninsula daily – plus on-peninsula trips. The ridership crossing the Duwamish River dropped 90 percent during the stay-home months.
Since the March 23rd high-bridge closure, newly striped bus lanes on Delridge and at the 5-way intersection are helping get buses to the low bridge. No stops have changed for current customers – they’re just using the low bridge instead, and aside from that bridge’s openings for maritime traffic, he said, things are going well – he gets downtown in 9 minutes on the 120 from the north end of Delridge.
Crosley said no one’s sure yet how long the current capacity restrictions – as little as 12 passengers per 40′ coach – will last. But schedule constrictions apparently will be in place for a long time. Example: He said the Water Taxi is not expected to run on its 7-day schedule (which, if not for the pandemic, would have started three months ago) this year at all – that’s a change from what was suggested at last month’s WSTC meeting.
Overall, Metro does not expect many people to be returning to offices before September, which is when the next level of service restoration is scheduled to kick in (as announced two weeks ago). They do have backup plans for scenarios such as a long-term low-bridge closure, though.
He also warned that Metro, like other agencies, is facing a financial crunch. Third-party funding (say, if Seattle decided to continue the expiring Transportation Benefit District funding) could mean more bus/Water Taxi service beyond what’s currently scheduled for September. For those concerned in north West Seattle, note that the 55, 56, and 57 are coming back as “peak-hours service” in September but not with as many trips as pre-COVID. Also, Metro will – when more occupancy is safe – be able to add up to 110 vanpools.
Routes 22 and 37 aren’t necessarily dead forever – they are suspended and could come back next year, Crosley said. WSTC chair Michael Taylor-Judd said the 22 suspension in particular is leading to a lack of service for a “significant chunk of West Seattle.” (In onscreen chat, one attendee mentioned an online petition to revive the 22.)
Crosley stressed that plans are flexible, especially if additional funding is found, and also depending on what traffic-flow data – they’re analyzing cell patterns as well as road usage – shows. In response to a question, he said they’re looking at some park-and-ride options, particularly in The Junction. Answering another question, he said temporary stops along Spokane Street on Harbor Island are in the works too.
Asked what’s more financially feasible – adding Water Taxis or buses – Crosley replied that a second boat, enabling 3 trips an hour, would cost more than $1 million – and would require third-party funding.
Now, to the earlier guests:
SDOT: Heather Marx, leading the West Seattle Bridge project, recapped the main point: “The future of the bridge remains uncertain.” That should change within a few months, as “late this summer” is when they expect to be able to decide whether to repair or replace it. Stabilization work is revving up, she said, with contractor Kraemer North America staging for both the Pier 18 repairs and the carbon-fiber reinforced polymer wrap (shoring).
She also went through everything else that’s happened to date. What’s next: The Reconnect West Seattle feedback “launch” on July 6th, as discussed in the Community Task Force meeting a day earlier (WSB coverage here). She also recapped the immediate change to open the low bridge to all 9 pm-5 am nightly, and to school buses any time, plus possible future changes:
Overall, Marx said, regarding traveling off and onto the peninsula, “We want to maintain similar levels of travel, but we can’t do that if everyone stays in their cars.” SDOT is well aware that some trips require motorized vehicles. But they want you to consider other modes for trips that don’t.
She also touched on a reminder of WSDOT’s upcoming July overnight closures of the northbound 1st Avenue South Bridge, and the increased traffic on West Marginal Way SW – doubled at one recent point, Marx said.
From there, she went through a variety of concerns the WSTC had surfaced, such as Fauntleroy ferry traffic issues (also raised by the Fauntleroy Community Association) doing U-turns on Fauntleroy Way. When you are detouring, Marx urged in conclusion, think about how your decision is affecting the community you’re cutting through – South Park or Georgetown. “Michigan (Street in Georgetown) is a disaster, there are so many cars,” she said.
In response to a question about whether “fees” could be charged for low-bridge access, Marx mentioned they do have legislative authority to collect tolls, but that would require Washington State Transportation Commission approval. (To be clear, there’s no proposal for that – it was just a question.)
Another Q: How to report “poorly sequenced traffic signals”? Contact SDOT – 684-Road@seattle.gov. Marx also explained that signals are “sequenced in a group” and “you might be on a losing end.” 26 signals on the peninsula are connected to SDOT’s downtown center and change could be made quickly. WSTC vice chair Marty Westerman said his particular concern is 35th/Barton. A bit later, someone asked about the 35th/Fauntleroy signal cycling that seems to still be what it was pre-closure; Marx promised to look into that.
Chair Taylor-Judd read a comment from WSB asking about bicycle-route improvements. A proposed list will be part of what’s released on July 6th for community review/prioritization, she said. Marx will be a guest at the next West Seattle Bike Connections meeting on July 7th, by the way. (She mentioned at that point that she just bought an e-bike.)
Where does SDOT stand on the idea of immersed-tube tunnel? Marx repeated that it’s too early in the process to know how the bridge would be replaced, IF it has to be replaced, and anything’s possible. But whatever option would be chosen would trigger a long environmental process, she said, and they hope everyone would coalesce around whatever decision is eventually made, rather than fighting over it.
PORT OF SEATTLE: Quick updates from a port delegation – Terminal 5 project leader Emma Del Vento recapped what she had recently told the Pigeon Point Neighborhood Council (WSB coverage here), about Terminal 5’s timetable and progress. T-5’s four huge new cranes are currently scheduled to arrive next April.”Getting them to the new berth is going to be an adventure,” Del Vento observed.
Lindsay Wolpa said the port’s working to support the city’s advocacy for what might be needed if the WS Bridge must be replaced. “It’s definitely front and center for us and will be for a long time.”
What about truck queueing, with the bridge out of service? Zack Thomas said they’ve been conferring with SDOT re: freight flows – both daily conferring and long-term trends/mitigation. “It’s an ongoing discussion.”
Before the 2-hour-plus meeting wrapped, a few other points, including:
WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE COMMUNITY TASK FORCE: CTF member and WSTC board member Deb Barker talked a bit more about the draft Reconnect West Seattle project lists that community members will be asked to prioritize. (The draft lists have been shared with CTF members but not the public.) She also said she’s kept an eye on the Florida cracked-bridge situation; while our bridge’s closure has not yet been declared a city or state emergency – something Barker has advocated for – the Stuart, FL, mayor did that within days.
WSTC ON YOUTUBE: The group has launched a YouTube channel. The April and May meeting recordings are there, and this one will be soon (you can subscribe to get notifications).
The West Seattle Transportation Coalition meets at 6:30 pm most fourth Thursdays.